Lesson One: Mixology

Chapter One: The Basics

Every drink site worth its Margarita salt has a section up at the front devoted to bar gear and all the various liquids and solids you’ll be using it to mix together—good, solid, useful information. This one’s no different. But if you’re the type who prefers to review this sort of thing with a nice, cold drink in your hand, I heartily suggest you skip to the next section and then come back and fill in as necessary.

There’s only one thing you’ll truly need to make perfect drinks: your brain. Perfect drinks aren’t a function of equipment; they’re a function of patience, caring, and taste. As long as you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing, you can always improvise your way around a particular piece of bar-gear. Don’t have a vegetable peeler with which to cut your lemon twists? The goal is to separate the yellow zest from the white pith, and the peeler is just a quick way to do it; the twists don’t care if you cut them with a paring knife, then lay them facedown on the counter and shave the pith off of them. Don’t have an ice sack and mallet? Wrap the ice in a kitchen towel and whack it with a rolling pin. Or a souvenir mini Louisville slugger. Or just whack the ice-filled towel on the counter. A graduated measuring cup works pretty much as well as a jigger, a chopstick stirs a drink as well as a bar spoon, and so on and so forth.

Assuming, however, that you are in the market for barware, this is what you should get for GEAR:

A Shaker: For home use, the standard three-part stainless-steel shaker is perfectly adequate. It’s simple to use, durable, and, all things being equal, your drink will come out a bit colder if it’s mixed in steel than if it’s mixed in glass or plastic. That said, bartenders generally use the two-part “Boston” shaker (nobody, not even Dr. Dave, knows why the hell it’s called that), made up of a pint glass—the standard American beer pint—and a 26-oz, stainless-steel “mixing tin.” This takes a little more practice, but it’s a great way of showing off your skill, of doing something your friends can’t do. Plus, it’s cheap, effective and it lets you see your drink as it’s being built (if, like us, you tend to forget things, that’s a great help). It’s what we’ll be using in our videos.

A Cocktail Strainer: The strainers built into the tops of most three-part shakers tend to pour slowly, allowing more dilution than is strictly necessary to occur. What you want is one of those spring-edged contraptions that you can hold over the bottom of your shaker while you evacuate your beverage. Try to get a sturdy one. There are two basic types: the Hawthorne Strainer (spring loaded to fit around the top of your mixing tin) and the Julep Strainer, which fits neatly into a mixing glass.

A Bar Spoon: Anything long-handled and sturdy will do.

A Muddler: Otherwise you can’t make Old-Fashioneds, and that would be sad. Simply a thick, hardwood dowel with a flat bottom. Often these come varnished, which means you’ll have to take sandpaper to them. (who wants varnish in their drinks?). Hint: the flat end is the business end, the round end is the handle. You’ll always need a bit of liquid for muddling to serve its purposes, but it is near impossible to get it right when you have too much liquid.

Jiggers: For measuring. These usually come in the form of back-to-back stainless-steel cones. You’ll need a 2ounce/ 1ounce jigger at the very least, plus a 1 1/2-ounce/¾ -ounce jigger and a 1-ounce/ ½-ounce jigger if you’re in the mood to buy equipment (hey, they’re cheap).

Measuring Spoons: You really only need four sizes: 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce), 1/2 tablespoon (1/4 ounce), 1 teaspoon (1/6 ounce), 1/2 teaspoon (1/12 ounce). Beyond this, you’re into the realm of dashes and pinches.

An Ice Bag and a Mallet: This is simply a canvas sack into which you put your ice and a hardwood bat with which you whack the bejeezus out of it. Cracked ice makes your drink appreciably colder than cubed ice. Highly recommended.

A Knife: A nice, sharp paring knife will do.

A Small Cutting Board: To cut, slice, and peel your citrus on.

A Vegetable Peeler: To cut your twists with.

A Juicer: Whatever you normally use to juice lemons, limes, oranges, and/or grapefruit will do just fine. If you’re in the mood to buy equipment, though, the Mexican-style hand juicer is particularly, well, handy.

A Fine-Meshed Strainer: To strain your juices with. This makes the drinks look better and the stuff they’re mixed in easier to clean, and it takes half a second).

How to Shake

Andy Shows You How to Shake a Cocktail.

How to Stir

Andy Demonstrates Proper Stirring Technique.

How to Strain

Andy Shows You How to Strain a Cocktail.

How to Juice

Andy Shows You How to Squeeze Fruit.

How to Muddle

Andy Shows You How to Muddle a Cocktail.

Reproduced from “Killer Cocktails” by David Wondrich.